×

Tokyo Film Review: ‘Old Beast’

Family ties and the price of progress are the themes of Zhou Ziyang's punchy feature debut.

Director:
Zhou Ziyang
With:
Tu Men, Wang Chaobei, Su Feng, Yi Danna, Wang Mingshuo, Alatengwula, Wang Zizi, Sun Jiaqin, Yan Liyang, Hao Qiaoling. (Mandarin dialogue)  

1 hour 51 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7481246/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Social realism is delivered with an impressively tough edge in “Old Beast,” a compelling portrait of a selfish father whose reprehensible behavior drives his adult children to take drastic action. Set in a corner of Ordos, a boom-bust city in Inner Mongolia where clusters of apartment blocks remain largely unoccupied, this first feature written and directed by Ordos native Zhou Ziyang sports a terrific central performance by veteran Tu Men (“A Simple Goodbye”) and offers pungent commentary on the extensive damage to social cohesion when economic development programs don’t deliver the projected results. Produced by admired Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai (“In Love We Trust”, “Red Amnesia”), this broadly accessible tale should enjoy a lengthy festival life and have regional art-house prospects. Domestic release details are yet to be announced.

A one-time restaurateur and investor who lost everything when the Ordos real estate market tanked, 60-ish Lao Yang (Tu) hustles around town playing mah-jong and acting like the big shot he once was. In the film’s opening act, Lao runs into Lu (Alatengwula), a poor farmer with a sick camel. Offering to mind the beast for his old pal, Lao instead sells the animal to a butcher and uses the proceeds to buy gifts for his mistress, Lili (Wang Zizi).

That’s just the beginning of Lao’s character flaws. His most severe shortcoming is a heartless disregard for his gravely ill wife (Hao Qiaoling). Instead of looking after her, Lao sneaks out like a thief in the night to feed his gambling addiction and visit a seedy “health spa.” When his wife is taken to the hospital and 30,000 yuan (about $4,500) is required for surgery, Lao steals the money his children have raised and uses part of it to buy a cheap cow to replace Lu’s camel.

Zhou’s incisive screenplay shows how the economic downturn in Ordos has affected the next generation. Lao’s son, Bing (Wang Chaobei) and wife Lixia (Yi Danna) squabble over money and must work long hours just to stay afloat. Daughter Mei (Wang Mingshuo) and her hubby, Liang (Su Feng), are heavily in debt and frightened that Lao’s shameful actions will bring the family into disrepute and cost Liang his shot at a much-needed  job promotion. It seems everyone in Ordos banked on promises of prosperity when the city’s modernization began more than a decade ago, and all have lost out. The only child doing well is youngest daughter Qin (Sun Jiaqin), who lives far away but close enough for Lao to land on her doorstep and start cadging.

Drawing on events that took place within his own extended family, Zhou places Lao in the middle of an intervention by his infuriated children. After forcing him to sign a good behavior contract, they tie him up and throw him in a cellar. In the aftermath, he sues them, with jail sentences looking likely for Bing and Liang. “Lock them up for a few years for all I care,” he says.

Lao is an unrepentant monster, but shows just enough tiny flickers of humanity to keep audiences wondering if he’s going to change his ways. To his great credit, Zhou avoids the easy way out and doesn’t send Lao on a phony feel-good transformation. With the help of Tu’s perfectly calibrated performance, Zhou brings the tale to a conclusion that’s as tough and honest as it must be.

First-time feature DP Mathias Dalvaux excels with arresting compositions in interior scenes and striking wide shots of virtually empty six-lane roads surrounding half-finished tower blocks in a place that was supposed to showcase the Chinese economic miracle, but more closely resembles the setting of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film such as “I Am Legend.” A haunting guitar-based score by composer Song Yuzhe completes the somber picture. All other technical aspects are on the money.

Tokyo Film Review: ‘Old Beast’

Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (Asian Future), Oct. 29, 2017. (Also in Taipei Golden Horse, First Xining film festivals.) Running time: 111 MIN. (Original title: “Lao shu”)

Production: (China) A Dongchun Films, Beijing Daqiao Tang Film Television Media Co., Beijing Fang Jin Visual Media Culture Communication Co., Having Me Films, Scenefone Film Equipment Rental Co. presentation of a Dongchun Film Prods. production. (International sales: Edko, Hong Kong.) Producers: Wang Xiaoshuai, Liu Xuan. CREW: Director, writer: Zhou Ziyang. Camera (color): Matthias Delvaux. Editor: Li Xinzhu. Music: Song Yuzhe.

With: Tu Men, Wang Chaobei, Su Feng, Yi Danna, Wang Mingshuo, Alatengwula, Wang Zizi, Sun Jiaqin, Yan Liyang, Hao Qiaoling. (Mandarin dialogue)      (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • 'The Lion King' Ruling Box Office

    'The Lion King' Ruling Box Office With Dazzling Debut at $180 Million

    Disney’s “The Lion King” has jolted the North American box office back to life with an opening weekend in the $180 million range, estimates showed Saturday. “The Lion King” will record the second-best opening of 2019 — and could replace “Incredibles 2,” which launched last year with $182.7 million, as the ninth biggest North American [...]

  • 'Tomb Raider' Star Simon Yam in

    'Tomb Raider' Star Simon Yam in Hospital After Stabbing

    Hugely popular Hong Kong actor, Simon Yam was stabbed while on stage Saturday at a presentation in Zhongshan, Guangdong province in southern China. He is in hospital recovering. The incident happened at the opening of a branch of the Beijing Easyhome building materials company, where Yam was a guest. A man was seen rushing on [...]

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolosnaro attends the

    Bolsonaro Threatens Brazil’s Central Film Fund with Censorship or Closure

    In typical shoot-from-the-hip remarks, Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has declared that Ancine, Brazil’s powerful state-backed federal film agency, should accept “filters”or face closure. “If it can’t have a filter, we’ll close Ancine, or privatize it,” Bolsonaro added, attacking Ancine, which plows some $300 million a year into Brazil’s film and TV industries, for supporting [...]

  • TSOM-MASK

    Director Sara Gouveia on ‘Looking At Resilience Through Art’

    DURBAN–The Mapiko dance of Mozambique’s indigenous Makonde people was long used as a tool for social commentary. But during the colonial era it became an act of political resistance, prompting the Portuguese to stamp it out during Mozambique’s 10-year war for independence. Decades later, the art has been revived as a celebration of freedom. For [...]

  • Don Edkins

    Documentary Filmmaker Don Edkins on ‘Creating an African Voice’ 

    DURBAN–For the 10th Durban FilmMart (DFM), the industry program of the Durban Intl. Film Festival, a new strand was created to look at the unique challenges and opportunities facing documentary filmmakers in Africa. The two-day program, Durban Does Docs, offers a series of conversations, seminars and workshops with an intensive focus on the aesthetics, funding, distribution [...]

  • A Faithful Man

    Film Review: 'A Faithful Man'

    French actor Louis Garrel has been married twice, first to Iranian talent Golshifteh Farahani, and now to model-cum-actress Laetitia Casta. He has also directed two features, the first a free-wheeling love-triangle comedy called “Two Friends” in which Garrel plays the cad who comes between his best friend and the object of his obsession (played by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content